Iraq: Why the Need for Debate?
First in a Series of Four
JD Lock, Lieutenant Colonel, US Army (Retired)
2 September 2002
In remarks before the Veterans of Foreign War on 26 August, Vice President Dick Cheney declared that there was “no doubt” that Saddam Hussein had weapon’s of mass destruction or would acquire nuclear weapons “fairly soon” and that, with these weapons, he “could then be expected to seek domination of the entire Middle East…and subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail." Accordingly, based on these unconfirmed beliefs and an unsubstantiated threat, it has become President George W. Bush’s goal to initiate “a regime change” that would result in “a liberated Iraq” by launching a preemptive military strike against a sovereign nation in an undeclared war.
Begrudgingly, and seemingly as an afterthought, this administration now “welcomes a debate” on Iraq. Why the need for debate? Well, beyond Cheney’s remarks and the rhetoric that demonizes Hussein and paints him as this century’s Hitler, beyond the insinuation that attempts to taint Iraq with supporting the 9/11 attacks or of harboring al-Qaeda, and beyond the flaccid cover of a U.N. Security Council resolution over a decade old, there is a significantly more compelling reason for such a debate that can be expressed in a single word. Kosovo.
As with the present administration’s efforts, one has to ignore when ruminating back the hyperbolic chum tossed by President Bill Clinton’s administration into the waters of international opinion that generated a feeding frenzy designed to demonize and to consume Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevich. Not only did that rhetorical bait create an earlier Hitler, it also transformed, with a few strokes of a pen in an agreement between NATO and the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), “freedom fighters” out of ethnic-cleansing terrorists. War, not just politics, obviously makes for strange…and immoral…bedfellows. This demonization and immaculate transformation, however, were relatively trivial in contrast to the defining turning point, the sharp hook, in the Kosovo conflict that occurred in the tiny Kosovo hamlet of Racak for it was there, on 15 January, 1999, that 45 corpses—old men, women, and children—were reported to lay in a ditch, apparent victims of a Serb execution firing squad. Conveyed by the media in heart-wrenching detail, this tale of atrocity was evoked on 19 March by Clinton who declared “We should remember what happened in the village of Racak back in January, innocent men, women and children taken from their homes to a gully, forced to kneel in the dirt, sprayed with gunfire—not because of anything they had done, but because of who they were.”
Events, however, would prove to not be as they seemed. In Europe, doubts of the alleged massacre were raised nearly immediately. Within weeks, a team of Byelorussia forensic experts concluded after examination that the ‘massacred’ bodies had not been shot execution style but had been shot from a distance. Furthermore, traces of gunpowder were discovered on their fingers indicating that they may have been combatants. Shortly, thereafter, a Berlin paper reported that the bodies had been armed KLA fighters killed in battle with Serbian police. A team of Finnish forensic pathologists confirmed the essence of both the Byelorussia findings and the Berlin paper’s report.
This conclusion proved to be irrelevant, however, for Clinton had his “Gulf of Tonkin” in Racak and, commencing 24 March, the bombs began to rain down on Yugoslavia in support of Clinton’s "Humanitarian War" to stop "genocide.” During a 13 May speech to Veterans of Foreign Wars, Clinton recounted stories of how Serb forces were gathering hundreds of ethnic Albanians, lining them up, and executing them. At the Trepca mining complex, the reported hub of Serb ethnic cleansing, NATO and the KLA were claiming as many as 1,000 victims a day were being shot and dropped down the shafts. Secretary of Defense William Cohen asserted that between 100,000 to 200,000 Kosovar’s were “killed or missing.” In his speech to the Veterans, Clinton declared, “there are 100,000 people who are still missing,” implying that they may have been butchered. By June, however, and without ceremony or much questioning, those numbers were substantially revised downward to 10,000. Eventually, Carla Del Ponte, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal would report that only…an admittedly relative term…3,685 bodies or body parts…inclusive of Kosovar, Serb, KLA, and NATO caused deaths…had been located in 520 different locations. As for Trepca? Not a single body was found. Genocide? By whose definition?
Why the need for a debate? There are two reasons Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney. The first is simple…it’s the American way. Now, don’t get me wrong. I have no sympathy for Mr. Hussein and would be one of the first standing in line if offered the opportunity to take him out. However, we have a right to public debate, especially when the issue debated will most likely lead to the ultimate sacrifice by some members of this great nation’s armed forces.
The second, and more important, reason is that we’ve been lied to and manipulated before by those we’ve elected to public office. On 15 April 1999, while delivering a speech to newspaper editors, Clinton proclaimed that there is a “stark contrast between a free society with a free press and a closed society where the press is used to manipulating people by suppressing or distorting the truth.” Reflecting back on Kosovo, one would have to believe that Clinton must have fought hard to suppress a smile as he spoke, full well knowing that manipulation, suppression and distortion of the truth are applicable to a free society and free press, as well. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I trust that we, as a society, elect not to be shamed this time around.